PORTLAND — The last walk to the exits began with time still remaining on the scoreboard and the Trail Blazer rookies still learning on the court.
Portland began this season preaching development and in the end, the team stayed true to this word.
On Wednesday night, the five Blazer rookies played the final minutes of a 99-88 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
And so the lineup of the presumptive Rookie of the Year, a kid who calls himself “The Thrill,” two Europeans and a seven-footer not ready to play savior will go down as the last Blazers (33-49) on the floor as the team matched the longest losing streak in franchise history at 13 consecutive losses.
Damian Lillard led the rookie movement with 21 points but LaMarcus Aldridge scored 30 points and recorded a season-best 21 rebounds while concluding his night after the first 50 seconds of the final quarter.
By that time, the youngest Blazers attempted a comeback, pulled within three points but could not compete with a Warriors team heading to the playoffs.
“I wanted (Aldridge) to get to 30 and 20,” coach Terry Stotts said, explaining why he benched his All-Star. “I wanted the young guys to play. I wanted the young guys to close it out.”
Not since the 1971-1972 season, the second team in franchise history, has Portland fans witnessed such an extended streak of defeats. Even so, Stotts spoke of the “fondness” he had for this season in which the Blazers started 20-15 and had a fighter’s chance for the playoffs until March.
“Obviously, we’ve lost 13 in a row but when I look back on a lot of things we did, particulars in the first 50, 60 games and some of the wins that we had and how we played and the close games,” Stotts said, “I’m going to have a lot of fondness for this entire season. Again, the losing streak at the end — you can’t wipe that off the record. That’s obviously part of it. But I’ll remember more about the first two-thirds than the last 13 games.”
The remaining of the announced sellout of 20,261 – a testament that Portland fans are a longsuffering and loyal lot – stood on their feet and applauded the effort of their beloved Blazers. They seemed to recognize the sentiment Aldridge expressed after the game: don’t judge the 2012-2013 season by the losing streak.
“It happens,” Aldridge said. “You can’t predict wins or losses because we start the season winning and beating teams that everybody thought we didn’t have a chance and we finish the season losing to teams that we should’ve beat. It’s one of those years where guys got experience and guys got better and it’ll be better next year.”
For the team in the visitor’s locker room, next year can wait. The Warriors (47-35) wrapped up the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs and point guard Stephen Curry became the all-time leader in the NBA for most made 3-pointers in a season (272). Before the game, Warriors coach Mark Jackson spent equal times explaining why his team still had something to play for in game No. 82 and why Curry is the best shooter in the game.
“For us to finish the right way, for us to finish with the best possible position,” Jackson said, “we’ve got to take care of our business.”
And, on the other topic.
“There’s no question in my mind. He is the absolute best,” Jackson said of Curry. “I think the discussion is for who’s second place. The run he’s put together, the season he’s had, it has been a thing of beauty. To witness it first hand has been a pleasure.”
Before Curry had shot his way into the NBA record books and rookie Will “The Thrill” Barton (21 points in 48 minutes) had shot more Curry, the Blazers led early in the game.
When Aldridge converted his second field goal, the Blazers moved ahead with the 4-2 advantage at the 9:29 mark – a short-lived reprieve from the losing streak. However, the Warriors started hitting 3-pointers. First, Klay Thompson, and later Curry who tied the single-season record midway through the first quarter. Curry broke it near the middle of the second period and that triple pulled the Warriors ahead 37-27.
In contrast during the first half, the Blazers appeared well on their way to matching their own dubious record.
Barton spent the half locked in 2-for-10 shooting rut, attempting more field goals than Lillard and even the sharpshooter Curry. Aldridge rebounded but did not get help from his mates as he pulled down 12 and no other Blazer had more than four defensive boards. And though Golden State’s 40-percent field goal shooting was a positive sign that the Blazers played defense, they still allowed the jumping-shooting Warriors to outscore 20 points in the paint.
Even so, the Blazers began the fourth quarter trailing only by three points. When Joel Freeland knocked down a left baseline jump shot, Portland came within 79-75 but in the final period when Portland threw away six possessions, a Freeland foul turned the game.
Freeland tried to score in the lane but bowled over Carl Landry in the process. Referee Bill Spooner called an offensive foul and wiped off the basket and the Warriors responded by scoring on two straight possessions to build the lead back up to 11.
Freeland finished with seven points while his fellow rookie big Meyers Leonard, the 11th pick in last summer’s draft, also scored seven and only pulled down three rebounds. Victor Claver, who started in place of Nicolas Batum, did not score through more than 34 minutes of play.